Make Some Noise for Roller Shades

Make Some Noise for Roller Shades

Roller shades are the “Comeback Kid” of the window covering industry.  We often talk about the energy savings that roller shades can bring to a project – point out how they control glare while preserving the view – how stylish the fabrics have become – how “Green” they can be.  In Europe, putting them on the outside of the building, where they are the most effective, has been a long standing practice.  In North America we still like our shades on the inside, although this is changing.  So where does “noise” fit into the roller shade picture?

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Noise is a constant companion in most urban and suburban settings.  In the 1970’s the EPA found that average outdoor sound levels below 55 decibels (noise of dishwasher or air conditioner) were generally acceptable.  For indoors, sounds at 45 decibels and lower were defined as an acceptable and fell somewhere between a “quiet library” and rainfall.


Outside these ranges humans are plagued by hearing loss, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular and emotional upset, impaired task performance, and negative social behavior.  We typically don’t think of solar shades as a tool in remediating the negative impact of excessive noise in our indoor environments.  We might intuitively conclude, when challenged, that they can be helpful but would be at a loss to definitively say how, and by how much, they would be effective in reducing noise.

Shade cloth manufacturers have recently invested considerable time and effort in trying to establish predictable noise reduction values for the textiles they produce.  The standard developed and used is the Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) where a value of 0 (zero) represents perfect reflection, and a value of 1.0 represents perfect absorption.  Fabrics are tested at a variety of frequencies between 100 Hz and 5000 Hz to establish an average profile for the shade cloth.  This standard is being replaced by the Sound Absorption Average (SAA) that refines the frequency ranges and results.  However, it is safe to say that the higher the number the more effective a textile is in reducing noise and echoing.


Interestingly, some fabrics perform quite well in the testing while others seem to have minimal effect.  For instance, the Phifer Basic 3%, one of the least expensive shade cloths, does an outstanding job of reducing noise.  The same openness in the Infinity 2 fabric has 3 times less effectiveness while costing considerably more.  A small increase in openness from 3% to 5% dramatically reduces the effects of noise reduction.  Some “Blackout” fabrics with no openness have almost no effect on noise, even producing negative values – a counter intuitive result.

What does this all mean to the designer and architect?  At one time shade cloth was just a boring white fabric mounted on a wooden spring roller.  If colors were available they were only considered for their decorative value or because they were something other than white.  In today’s building environment roller shades are the rising star in the industry.  They are already being recognized as a key component in effective dynamic façade strategies and offer impressive energy savings and comfort enhancing qualities.  Using roller shades to reduce noise pollution almost seems like icing on the cake.    


We are often faced with the challenge of improving conditions in existing building stock where efficient design cannot be easily incorporated into the remedial solution set.  Older buildings are usually grossly inefficient in terms of energy consumption and the use of single layered glass facades can make them act like large “sounding boards” for environmental noise pollution.  Glass is inherently a poor insulator both in terms of energy transmission and noise dampening with NRC values around .02.

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Adding a multi layered and engineered glass retro fits is often prohibitive in terms of cost and buildings may not be able to handle the added weight on the exterior structure.  Using roller shades properly matched to the conditions can provide significant savings in energy while providing impressive amounts of noise reduction. Dual roller shade strategies are even better.

Selecting window coverings has become more of a science than art in every sense of the word. But that is not to say the process needs to be boring.  Shade cloth manufactures are incorporating all kinds of technology into their products – everything from Near Infrared (NIR) wave length rejection coatings, micro ventilation openness laminations; low toxicity bio-based plasticizers to noise reduction weaves – but style and color are also back in the lineup. 

The Puerta America Hotel in Madrid, Spain is an “over the top” example of how the shade cloth itself becomes part of the façade and is a vibrant architectural element.  The designers even used a graphic printing process to use the fabric panels as a canvas for branding and artwork.  It is stunning to look at and is also very efficient in form and functionality.  If you look closely you’ll see that the panels actually move as needed – they are after all roller shades.

Let the team at DWF Contract show you and your clients how to incorporate these ideas into projects that save money while making the building a comfortable and inspiring place to be. So let’s make some “noise” for roller shades – we can handle it and so can the shades.


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